Big 12: Stansly Maponga

Opening camp: TCU Horned Frogs

July, 31, 2013
Three Big 12 teams open fall camp on Thursday, but all 10 will be preparing for the season by next Thursday. We'll take a closer look at each team around the time camp begins. Let's get started.

Schedule: TCU opens camp on Thursday in preparation for its season opener on Aug. 31 against LSU at Cowboys Stadium.

Setting the scene: TCU returns 15 starters -- more than every Big 12 team but Texas -- from last year's seven-win team, but the return of quarterback Casey Pachall is the biggest story in Fort Worth this fall. The Frogs earned a ton of respect across the league in their first season, fighting for a successful season despite dealing with more injuries and losses than any team in the Big 12. It lost a couple of key players in Josh Boyce and Stansly Maponga, but no team in the Big 12 has more proven impact players on defense.

All eyes on: Pachall. For now, he's not officially the starter after returning to the team in January following a drunk driving arrest in October and a subsequent stay in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility. Coach Gary Patterson talked about bringing him to media days and has continually dropped hints throughout spring that Pachall is likely ready to reclaim his spot from Trevone Boykin. Boykin is a solid runner who played well considering his circumstances and inexperience a year ago (he practiced as a running back the week of Pachall's arrest before being moved to starting QB), but Pachall gives TCU a much higher ceiling. He didn't throw a ball from October to January, but he'll have to prove he can look like his old self through fall practices after a summer working out and throwing with teammates.

Stepping up: Boyce and receiver Skye Dawson are gone, but TCU needs a promising receiving corps to have big camps in preparation for a big year. Brandon Carter is the headliner who's proven himself as a situational playmaker in the past, catching 36 balls for 590 yards and six scores as a sophomore a year ago. Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story has turned heads this offseason, but LaDarius Brown and Cam White are a bit more experienced and should give Pachall plenty of great targets.

Outlook: The Big 12's media picked the Frogs to finish third in the league, but they garned nine first-place votes from 43 voters. That was more than every team but league favorite Oklahoma State. However, the players across the Big 12 apparently view TCU as the favorite to win the league. Expect TCU to be somewhere between No. 15 and No. 20 in the preseason polls heading into its opener against LSU.

On the mend: Waymon James is back on the field after suffering a knee injury against Kansas last season and missing the final 11 games of the season. He's the best back in a group of really good ones for the Frogs. Matthew Tucker and Aundre Dean are gone, but I spent some time with James during media days, and he was singing the praises of a much-improved B.J. Catalon heading into fall camp. Add in hyped Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and TCU should be well prepared for any injuries at that spot.

Quotable: Gary Patterson, on playing defense in the Big 12: "You've got to get it to where you have an advantage as far as you know it's a passing down. ... And you've got to minimize the big plays. You can't allow them to score within 1:30. It's really hard to win ball games if you allow people to do that. I said a year ago you've got to learn how to make people kick field goals, and we did that to an extent. It's one thing to play in the middle of the field, and it's another thing to play in the red zone. We've got to keep emphasizing that, along with everybody else, I'm sure, in the league is doing that."

Under the radar: TCU Horned Frogs

June, 27, 2013
Far too often, players enter the season with a profile that doesn't quite match his worth to the team.

In other words, they're coming in under the radar. We'll continue our series looking at those guys who should get more respect and attention than they have this offseason.

Next up: TCU.

More under the radar players.

Under the radar: DT Chucky Hunter

The Big 12 has had a major lack of elite talent at the defensive tackle spot since Ndamukong Suh back in 2009. The position goes underrecruited because having lots of pass-rushers and defensive backs is so crucial to fielding a good defense in the Big 12, and in part because Texas doesn't have the kind of quality that states like Mississippi and Louisiana have at the position.

Now, though, having a big 300-plus pounder who can collapse the pocket is a huge asset that very, very few Big 12 teams have. Oklahoma State's got one in Calvin Barnett, and Texas has some young talents at the position, but Hunter really broke out as a sophomore last season. With Devonte Fields out for TCU's opener against LSU, Hunter will be the man to watch on the defensive line for the Frogs, and he'll get a big test with the Tigers' beef on the offensive line at Cowboys Stadium.

The nature of offenses in the Big 12 prevents defensive tackles from putting up huge numbers, so take Hunter's 36 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks with a grain of salt. He's got a much bigger impact than that, freeing up linebackers to make plays and helping Fields and Stansly Maponga stay free last season. He made 3.5 of his tackles for loss in TCU's final four games, and don't be surprised if he raises his profile around the league (and, perhaps, the country) even further as a junior in 2013.

TCU Horned Frogs spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: DE Devonte Fields, CB Jason Verrett, WR Brandon Carter, S Sam Carter, S Elisha Olabode, RB Waymon James, K Jaden Oberkrom, RB B.J. Catalon

Key losses: WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain, DE Stansly Maponga, C James Fry, OG Blaize Foltz, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Skye Dawson

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Trevone Boykin* (2,054 yards)
Rushing: B.J. Catalon* (584 yards)
Receiving: Josh Boyce (891 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Cain (86)
Sacks: Devonte Fields* (10)
Interceptions: Jason Verrett* (6)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line getting straightened out. James Fry and Blaize Foltz were big losses on the interior of the offensive line, and replacing them was a big concern for the Frogs' quiet spring. The spring ended with senior Eric Tausch atop the depth chart at center and sophomore Jamelle Naff winning the right guard job to replace Foltz. Tausch started at left guard last season and moved over, but sophomore Joey Hunt slid up to replace him. Neither Naff nor Hunt have much experience (Hunt earned his lone career start in a loss to Iowa State), but they'll be leaned on this season.

2. New targets acquired. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson took their talents to the next level, leaving the Frogs in search of a pair of new starters. LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter were sure things, but strong springs helped fellow juniors Cam White and David Porter win starting jobs at receiver. There aren't many open gigs for a team returning 15 starters, but that's one that will have a big impact.

3. Mallet dropping the hammer. Junior Marcus Mallet emerged late last season and finished with five tackles for loss and a forced fumble among his 18 stops. Now, he looks like the likely candidate to replace departed Kenny Cain and a possible breakout talent on a loaded TCU defense. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder finished atop the depth chart after a good spring.

Fall questions

1. Is Casey Pachall back to his old self? It's probably safe to operate under the assumption that Pachall will win his job back in fall camp, but beating out Trevone Boykin isn't the same as leading the Big 12 in passing efficiency, like he was last year before his DUI arrest that ended his season. You don't win a Big 12 title with average quarterback play, which brings me to my next question.

2. Can TCU really handle a Big 12 schedule? TCU was competitive last year, sure, and only had one game that it wasn't competitive in. But TCU's not trying to be competitive. It didn't come to the Big 12 to do that. It came to win, and it's proven exactly nothing in that realm just yet. Managing a difficult week-to-week schedule is one thing. Winning just about every week is another. Ask K-State's 2012 team and Oklahoma State's 2011 squad how easy that is.

3. Is the defense for real? On paper, this unit should be absolutely dominant after finishing No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense and returning nine starters, including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields at defensive end. That sounds like Texas' defense from last year, who fell off the map and allowed more rushing yards than any team in school history. Sometimes, you just never really know. This is a new season and last year means nothing. Prove it again.

Lunch links: NFL draft links galore

April, 29, 2013
Today's links: Sponsored by Steph Curry's Heat Checks.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- On some days last season, Gary Patterson had to look down at his depth chart and cue up his own version of the Talking Heads classic, "Once in a Lifetime."
You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?" ...

And you may tell yourself, "This is not my talented stable of running backs"
And you may tell yourself, "This is not my accurate, experienced QB"

It was a rough season for the Frogs in purple, especially for a coach like Patterson who had won fewer than seven games in a season just once since 2002, his second season as the full-time head man in Fort Worth. TCU struggled through more injuries than any team in the Big 12 last season, and lost six games, capped by a heartbreaker in a bowl game it dominated for more than three quarters.

It won just seven games, but a funny thing happened the end of a season that felt exhausting from a weekly grind in a new Big 12 the Frogs had longed for since being left outside of major conference football following the breakup of the Southwest Conference in the mid-90s.

"I think we gained a lot more respect fan-wise from being 7-5 than a being 11-2 beating Boise State at Boise State, which to me is an unbelievable win," Patterson told in a recent interview. "To me, that speaks volumes to where we’re at and I think our kids should to understand that, what we’re doing."

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
John Rieger/US PresswireGary Patterson's Horned Frogs faced plenty of adversity last season but fielded a competitive team.
How'd that happen? People took notice of the Frogs' struggles off the field and saw they were still competitive on the field.

"Everybody was wondering how we could handle things on a week to week basis, and I thought we, except for one half of football against Oklahoma State, we felt like we were in every ball game that you had," Patterson said.

Four players were kicked off the team following a campus drug sting in January, including star linebacker Tanner Brock and a pair of other likely starters.

The Frogs left 2011 planning on having three backs in 2012 who ran for at least 700 yards, but Ed Wesley left the team after spring practice and Waymon James missed the final 11 games after injuring his knee in the Frogs' Big 12 opener against Kansas in Week 2.

Quarterback Casey Pachall, then the nation's leader in passer rating, left the team less than three weeks later to seek inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in the wake of a DUI arrest.

Defensive end Ross Forrest, who had six tackles for loss, suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp and fellow end Stansly Maponga battled an ankle and foot injury for much of the season, missing two games.

Matthew Tucker, the lone running back left with major experience, played through an ankle injury of his own, missing just one game.

Still, the Frogs battled on, losing a three-overtime heartbreaker to Texas Tech and losing to Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma after a possible game-winning touchdown pass was batted down as time expired to help the Sooners clinch their eighth title since 2000.

"I’ve been through 7-5 seasons before, and a couple plays here or there and, now you could have just as easily been 5-7, but you could have won 9 or 10, too, so how do you make up the little things?"

That's the challenge ahead for the Frogs, who look fit to contend for a Big 12 title in 2013 behind a defense that finished No. 1 in the league in total defense despite injuries and being forced to rely on more freshmen than ever before under Patterson. Pachall's back, too, battling to regain his job from Trevone Boykin.

Being competitive isn't good enough anymore. TCU's not out for respect anymore. It's time to start hunting trophies, preferably of the crystal bowl variety with the Big 12 logo etched on it.

"We’re not into moral victories. We’ve played well against those teams in the past, the key is to be able to recruit depth," Patterson said. "We’ve got to keep getting better at every position."

Year 1 was certainly one of the most difficult for Patterson, who took over the TCU job back in 2000. It won't get much easier in a deep Big 12 in 2013, but this time around, the Frogs would love it if the offseason isn't littered with personnel losses.

"You’ve got to come with it every week in our league," Patterson said. "As far as I’m concerned, you wouldn’t want any different."
Thanks for all the emails this week and while I was away, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you have more nuggets of hysterical marriage advice.

Let's get to your emails!

James in Charleston, W.Va. writes: I am not going to argue that WVU has a good non conference schedule this upcoming season, because it doesn't. But I am going to argue that WVU should be ranked higher that Texas Tech and Kansas. At least WVU has a BCS team in its non conference schedule in Maryland, and on top of that, it is an actual annual rivalry game with a long history. I know Maryland hasn't been great lately, but a rivalry game alone should bump us over those other two.

David Ubben: I don't buy that at all. I agreed with where WVU was in my man Brandon Chatmon's rankings, for the most part. You could make a case for WVU ahead of KU depending on how Louisiana Tech looks after losing a ton of seniors from last year's team. But Maryland was awful last season again, losing its final six games of the year, and its two wins in ACC play were against teams that both finished below .500. That's not respectable at all. SMU was a decent non-AQ team last year, and June Jones has that program in its best shape in a long while. That's a good non-conference matchup. Skip Holtz was a solid hire for the Bulldogs down in Ruston, and I'd definitely take them over Maryland, which was stuck playing a linebacker at quarterback last season (seriously.) Just playing an AQ conference team doesn't mean that much. Granted, judging nonconference schedules in the preseason is always somewhat of a guessing game because you never really know how good teams will be.

It's close, but I'll take KU and Texas Tech's nonconference schedules next year ahead of WVU's.

Cowboy KS in Kansas City writes: DU, I'm not following the logic on having OState and TCU more favored to win the Big 12 this year than the Horns. The Horns return almost their entire group of starters and even get a couple of injured starters back in the line-up. Why not call for the Horns to win it all this year? What's behind the skepticism of the burnt orange herd?

DU: Well, TCU is pretty simple. It lost the best player on its team and its best running back and still managed to win seven games in its first year in the league, and had the Big 12's best defense despite playing tons of freshmen and sophomores and never seeing offenses like these on a week-to-week basis. That's amazing, and Casey Pachall and Waymon James return, with plenty of guys in place to replace Josh Boyce and Stansly Maponga, the team's two biggest losses.

For OSU, it comes down to wins and losses. The Pokes beat the heck out of a bunch of good Big 12 teams like Tech, TCU, WVU. They also played through a bunch of quarterback injuries and suffered respectable losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma, two teams who tied for the best record in the Big 12, and OSU lost a narrow game to a red-hot Baylor team late in the year.

Texas? The Longhorns beat OSU early in the year, but really did get shakier as the season went on, while teams like OSU and TCU improved. Texas played well against Iowa State and Tech, but was embarrassed by Kansas State and Oklahoma, and never really won a game that made you say, "Wow!" You've got to win a lot of those to win a Big 12 title.

With what TCU is gaining from last year's seven-win team that was a shell of what it could have been, and OSU's ability to just outclass a lot of good Big 12 teams, I believe a whole lot more in them to be double-digit win teams this year and threaten to win a Big 12 title. Texas will be in the mix, but OSU's late-season surge and TCU's Thanksgiving Night win against Texas doesn't make me feel very confident in the Longhorns as a better team than either.

Chris in Lubbock, Texas writes: Special teams seem to be more in the spotlight and more critical in a league were scoring is this rampant. Who in your mind is going to be the most explosive special teams player or top 3 if that is easier?

DU: I'd say the league's best special teams player begins and ends with Tyler Lockett next season when you're talking explosiveness.

Outside of him, keep an eye on Jakeem Grant at Texas Tech, and don't overlook Justin Gilbert having a big comeback season next year after a disappointing 2012 on special teams and at cornerback.

Jaxon Heath in Dallas writes: Ok David, I know you've been through all the expansion talk again and again, but with the Big East break up, why doesn't the Big 12 snatch up South Florida? It's located in a major market, in a major state and games in Florida would help in recruiting. USF is a large university as well.

DU: Interesting suggestion, Jaxon. It works on some levels, but I don't really buy it. If you're going to dig into Florida, I think you only do it for a home run, i.e. Florida State. I wouldn't take a risk on a team that is so far out of your footprint and doesn't have a lot of proven success on the field, though the formula to do that is there with its location and size. TCU was a little different because a) The Big 12 absolutely needed a new member, and b) its proximity and history and likely future growth outweighed its small size and poor facilities (outside of a new football stadium and baseball stadium). I could see a world in which USF works as a Big 12 member, but it's risky, and not worth rolling the dice. The risk far outweighs the reward, and it's hard to see USF truly becoming one of the best two programs in Florida consistently, Big 12 membership or otherwise. The league should jump at any opportunity to land Florida State, but USF would give me reason for pause.

Charles Cowart in Phoenix, Ariz., writes: Ubbs, As a huge fan of the Longhorns I am seeing a recent growth of Texas fans that seem to think David Ash was "mediocre at best." I would like your thoughts on this with an outside look. Besides Kansas and OU (No one on the roster or coaching staff did anything on this day) he looked to me to be one of the best in the country. Take into account he was playing in a run-based offense that was almost intentionally non-explosive, injured in the TCU game. In the true shootouts he performed like a gunslinger (OK State, Ole Miss) and made the bigger plays to beat a team with a QB most regard as better than him. It is not like our defense put him in favorable conditions....

DU: Here's my thing with David Ash: He's neither of the things you described. He's not "mediocre at best," but he's a long, long way from "one of the best in the country." His biggest issue is his consistency. His numbers against Ole Miss were bloated because the Rebels' secondary was awful and let Texas' receivers make plays on balls that were poorly thrown. His game against Oklahoma State was the best I've ever seen from him. Truly great stuff. When Ash is playing up to his potential, he's far above average, and probably a top 10-15 quarterback nationally. We just saw a lot of moments last year when he was playing nowhere near his potential, and struggled. Once he struggles, it seems like he loses a lot of confidence and has trouble getting back on track. You look at how he played against OSU, Iowa State, and in moments against Texas Tech and Oregon State, and it's really impressive. You see how he played in games against Oklahoma and Kansas and it doesn't look like he can beat anybody. Leveling that out and looking more like the former than the latter is the only way Texas is winning a Big 12 title next year.

Breaking down spring camp: TCU

March, 1, 2013
TCU opens spring practice today for the second time as a Big 12 member. Let's take a closer look.

Schedule: The Frogs begin spring practice this afternoon, which will be the first of 15 NCAA-allowed practices. TCU rarely holds a spring game, and will not hold one this season.

What's new: Very, very little, especially on defense. TCU lost coach Randy Shannon to Arkansas this offseason, but returns 15 starters from last year's seven-win team, second most in the Big 12 (only Texas has more) and 24th nationally. Shannon was replaced by DeMontie Cross, who comes to TCU from Kansas' staff under Charlie Weis. On the field, there are big pieces that must be replaced (defensive end Stansly Maponga and wide receiver Josh Boyce), but the Frogs will largely have the same personnel next season as they had in 2012.

All eyes on: Quarterback Casey Pachall. He's the biggest story of spring in the Big 12 by far. Pachall was one of the Big 12's best at the position a year ago, but left the team after a DUI arrest to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. He's back on the team now and TCU's Big 12 title hopes hinge on him returning to form after time away from the game. He's also going to be watched closely when he's off the field. Will he be able to make the necessary adjustments to make his new lifestyle a permanent, healthy change?

New faces: TCU will be welcoming three early enrollees this spring, headlined by quarterback Zach Allen, the nation's No. 56 pocket passer. He'll be joined by tight end Bryson Burtnett from Springtown, Texas, and Georgia offensive tackle Eason Fromayan. There aren't many immediate contributors in that group, I'd say, but it's always good for freshmen to get a head start in spring practice.

Question marks: We've mentioned this previously, but you can't underestimate the importance of offensive line play in the Big 12. It can make any offense look great, and TCU will have to replace two of its best players on the line in guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry. Sorting out their replacements will be a primary objective this spring.

Position battle: TCU's running back spot is going to be really strong and intriguing. I expect all the backs to get carries in the fall, Waymon James will be returning from a knee injury and trying to hold off B.J. Catalon to retain his starting position. What people really want to see, though, is Nebraska transfer Aaron Green's debut as an eligible player. He was one of the nation's top 10 prospects in the 2010 recruiting class and sat out last season after coming home to Texas.

Big 12 defenders take combine field

February, 26, 2013
The defensive linemen and linebackers took their turn working out at the combine on Monday, but the biggest news for the Big 12 was who wasn't on the field.

Former Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown was in uniform and in attendance, but didn't complete a full workout due to a shoulder injury. That was unforeseen, but here's hoping Brown gets a chance to show off his measurables at Kansas State's pro day in Manhattan later this month. I'm betting he impresses.

A few numbers of note from the top performers on Monday:

40-yard dash
  • A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: 4.66 seconds, 13th among linebackers/D-linemen
  • Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma: 4.78 seconds, 25th among linebackers/D-linemen
225-pound bench press
  • Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU: 30 reps, 11th among among linebackers/D-linemen
Broad jump
  • Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: 116 inches, 28th among linebackers/D-linemen
Three-cone drill
  • Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma: 7.41 seconds, 13th among linebackers/D-linemen

The Big 12's biggest assets all year were on the offensive side of the ball, so it's no big surprise to see an average performance at the combine from its defenders. Texas' Kenny Vaccaro will probably be the league's first defender drafted, but defensive backs will close out the combine later this week. See more results here.

Big 12 combine storylines to watch

February, 22, 2013
The NFL scouting combine is underway, with the first set of physical workouts to begin today. You can see the full schedule here.

A few things you can watch for from the Big 12's talents this week:

Who's the No. 1 quarterback? USC's Matt Barkley isn't throwing at the combine workouts, but West Virginia's Geno Smith surprised some by announcing that he planned to give it a try. If he performs well, he could definitely ascend to the No. 1 spot. He's already close behind Barkley, but his combine performance will have an impact. But in the new NFL where mobile quarterbacks are en vogue, Smith's versatility that WVU didn't use could come into play. He'll put up some very interesting measurables, and his accuracy will show up if he calms his nerves. If not, NC State's Mike Glennon or Arkansas' Tyler Wilson could jump over him in the pecking order.

What about the No. 1 receiver? Baylor's Terrance Williams will be in the house and so will West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson is widely accepted as the top prospect, but could any of the Big 12's heavyweights make some noise with solid workouts and fight their way into first-round status?

Fixed up, but not quite ready to go. Jake Knott is still healing from his shoulder surgery this fall, but TCU's Stansly Maponga and Matthew Tucker should be all healed up from nagging ankle injuries. Knott won't be able to fully work out, but he'll do well in the interview process and was one of the most respected players in the league. It'll be interesting to see what NFL folk have to say about him after this week, despite not being able to see him work out.

Klein catching anyone's eyes (or their passes)? Collin Klein's Senior Bowl snub had fans around the Big 12 fired up and wondering how the Heisman third-place finisher could be left out of the premier postseason exhibition for scouts, but he doesn't quite fit the NFL mold. He's been working with former Denver Bronco Jake Plummer over the past few weeks, though he struggled in his one postseason all-star game experience. Could he build some buzz this week, either at quarterback or another position (receiver, tight end?) and convince an NFL team to fall for him? He'll knock his interviews out of the park.

Fastest man in the building. Could Austin take home the title? What about Marquise Goodwin? We may finally get some answers about who truly is the fastest man in the Big 12, and perhaps all of college football. The combine tells all, and the 40 times are always reliable. Seeing what those two put on the board will be interesting. How close to 4.3 could we see?

Time is money. Tony Jefferson has big-time instincts and plays physically, but he could help himself out in a big way by posting a great 40 time. His straight-line speed is his biggest knock, but he's spent the last month or so working out, and we'll see how much his work has paid off. Some of that speed work is so specifically tailored to 40 times that sometimes it doesn't show up on the field, but silliness aside, Jefferson has a ton to gain in that workout.

Big moving day? Every year somebody wows at the combine and ascends from out of nowhere to becoming a consensus first-round pick. Call it silly if you'd like, but that's the truth. Could any Big 12 talents be that guy this year? Keep an eye out. The Big 12 is likely to be shut out of the top 10 and may only have two to four first-round picks. That could change this week. Here's a few guys who might make that happen.
Earlier this morning, we broke down half of the big surprises and big busts from the 2009 recruiting class in the Big 12. Let's take a look at the rest of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State

Best surprise: OL Levy Adcock (Claremore, Okla.)

Adcock came to Oklahoma State as a juco transfer but had a quiet beginning to his career. He was the Pokes' No. 4 tight end in 2009 but moved to the offensive line and won the right tackle job, emerging as one of the Big 12's best lineman, and certainly the league's best in 2011. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and an All-American as a senior.

Biggest bust: RB Dexter Pratt (Navasota, Texas)

Pratt came as the only ESPN 150 member of Oklahoma State's 2009 class, but left the team in the spring of 2010. He was the nation's No. 15 running back and No. 139 overall recruit, but redshirted his first season on campus. He transferred to a junior college but was arrested in April 2011 on drug charges. That came less than two years after Pratt was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge in July 2009.


Best surprise: S Kenny Vaccaro (Brownwood, Texas)

Vaccaro was just the nation's No. 42 safety and entered Texas more highly ranked than just two of the Longhorns' 20 signees. Still, he emerged as a playmaker throughout his career. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big 12 selection, earning All-America honors as a senior. It's not as tangible of an honor, but for my money, he's been one of, if not the hardest hitter in the Big 12 the past two years.

Biggest bust: QB Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas)

Gilbert might be one of the biggest busts in Big 12 history. He was a hometown talent and the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 11 overall recruit, rated higher than guys like AJ McCarron and just behind talents like Matt Barkley and Manti Te'o. He showed big promise in the 2009 national title game against Alabama when Colt McCoy was injured, but threw 17 interceptions in Texas' 5-7 nightmare season in 2010. He returned in 2011, but threw two quick interceptions as Texas fell behind BYU. Gilbert was benched as fans booed him off the field, and he never saw any more time. He underwent shoulder surgery later that year and transferred to SMU, where he started and threw for 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2012.


Best surprise: DE Stansly Maponga (Carrolton, Texas)

Maponga came to TCU as the nation's No. 111 defensive end and ranked higher than just a handful of TCU's high-school recruits. He was a freshman All-American in 2010 after redshirting and became a full-time starter, earning all-conference honors. In 2011, he was a first-team All-Mountain West honoree and was TCU's only preseason representative on the All-Big 12 team. He battled injuries, but still had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, a year after making nine sacks.

Biggest bust: OLB Justin Isadore (Beaumont, Texas)

Isadore redshirted in 2009 but left the team after the season and transferred to Stephen F. Austin. He was the nation's No. 38 outside linebacker and the Frogs' second-highest ranked recruit. After transferring to the FCS level, he still has yet to record more than 20 tackles in a season.

Texas Tech

Best surprise: S D.J. Johnson (Austin, Texas)

Johnson was a middle-of-the-road recruit in a Texas Tech class that was just OK, but he emerged as a huge contributor and a three-year starter for the Texas Tech defense. He was an All-Big 12 honoree in 2010 and 2012 and racked up 90 tackles in 2012 for a much-improved Texas Tech defense under coordinator Art Kaufman.

Biggest bust: OLB Brandon Mahoney (Keller, Texas)

Mahoney was the class' highest-ranked signee and the nation's No. 13 outside linebacker. At one time, he was committed to Oklahoma, but Texas Tech made a swipe on the recruiting trail, but Mahoney didn't pan out. He left the team in August 2010 after redshirting in 2009.

West Virginia

Best surprise: S Darwin Cook (East Cleveland, OH)

Cook was the nation's No. 89 safety and didn't attract much attention on the way into Morgantown, even though he's got a pretty crazy backstory. He emerged to be a two-year starter at safety for the Mountaineers and a three-year contributor, providing the biggest defensive highlight of 2011 when he returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

Biggest bust: WR Logan Heastie (Chesapeake, Va.)

Heastie was the nation's No. 19 receiver and only Geno Smith (known by recruiting services as "Eugene Smith" ... awesome) was rated higher in the Mountaineers' class. Heastie, though, never caught on with the Mountaineers and reportedly didn't take to offseason workouts and didn't do much to impress coach Bill Stewart. Heastie transferred in April 2010.
The NFL scouting combine is the biggest annual showcase of future football stars before the NFL draft, where players who have entered the draft get measured, run through drills and show scouts and coaches what they can do without any pads on.

This year, a record 333 players have been invited, and the Big 12 landed 30 invitations.

Draft stock can swing wildly during the week, with the main event -- the 40 time -- often serving as the catalyst for that stock. Call it silly, and in some ways it is, but it's the reality of the process. Here's who's headed to Indianapolis from the Big 12:
Pretty good set of players there. You can see them when the combine kicks off Feb. 20.
We're back ranking the top 10 players at positions across the Big 12. Today, we'll turn our eyes to the defensive lines across the Big 12. Here's what you've missed so far:

Here's what you've missed so far:
Let's get to it.

1. Devonte Fields, TCU: You could make a case for either of these two guys, and Fields wasn't as productive in conference play, but Fields' raw talent is eye-popping. I give him the No. 1 spot on this list after leading the league with 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

2. Meshak Williams, Kansas State: Williams' motor runs higher than anyone else's in this league, and the juco transfer made a ton of the talent he was given to win the Big 12's Defensive Lineman of the Year Award. He was second in the league with 10.5 sacks and added 15.5 tackles for loss.

3. Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor finished his career in unbelievable fashion, making 4.5 sacks and dominating Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That jolted him into the Big 12 title with 12.5 sacks and he was second in the league with 16.5 sacks. His career has been a bit up and down, but this was a fitting crescendo to a big talent.

4. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State: Barnett was the league's best interior defensive lineman this year, constantly getting a push and generally being a handful for offensive lines. He fixed his early-season penalty issues and finished with nine tackles for loss.

5. Jake McDonough, Iowa State: McDonough wasn't too far behind. He was a breakout star in the middle for Iowa State this season, pushing his way to two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. You can't grade interior linemen on numbers, but watch Iowa State's defense sometime. McDonough freed up a lot of space for the rest of the defense, one of the league's most underrated.

6. Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis doesn't have the name recognition around the league that Williams did, but he was solid on the other side of the line, ranking fourth in the league with six sacks and eighth in the league with 11.5 sacks. K-State's defense was one of the Big 12's best last year. The D-line was a huge reason why.

7. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech: Hyder was a breakout star this season for the much-improved Tech defense. He was fifth in the league with 14 tackles for loss and seventh with 5.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 281-pounder is versatile along the defensive line and could be due for a big 2013.

8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat's junior year came to a sad end when he injured his pectoral and underwent surgery, but even with the abbreviated season, he still had four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in just six games. Ridiculous. He could be a top 10 pick next April after electing to return to Texas for his senior season in 2013.

9. Stansly Maponga, TCU: Maponga was a little underwhelming this year, but still turned in a solid effort when you look from a wide angle and not from the high expectations he brought in as the Frogs' only preseason All-Big 12 selection and an All-Mountain West first-teamer. He battled injuries all year and finished with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

10. David King, Oklahoma: Maximus was mighty for the Sooners this season, who needed him to do a lot. Injuries and suspensions forced him to move all over the place on the defensive line. He was inside, outside and every other possible side. He finished with 2.5 sacks this season.

Honorable mention: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech; Vai Lutui, Kansas State; Chris McAllister, Baylor; Chucky Hunter, TCU
You need stars to win Big 12 titles, sure. Oklahoma State had two: Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden.

Kansas State had two this season, too: Collin Klein and Arthur Brown. What all too often got overlooked for both of those teams? The bushels of really, really good players who don't have national name recognition but show up week after week and are far above average for their position.

Both teams had outstanding offensive lines, but players like John Hubert, Meshak Williams, Ty Zimmerman and Nigel Malone were huge parts of those titles. Oklahoma State was deep at receiver with Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison and had huge pieces on defense like Jamie Blatnick and Markelle Martin, along with a pair of breakout cornerbacks in Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert.

We'll see about Casey Pachall, but TCU lost two players who are certainly far above average for their positions in receiver Josh Boyce and defensive end Stansly Maponga, a preseason All-Big 12 talent a year ago who had a disappointing season but was still a big talent with a chance for a huge 2013. Boyce wasn't a Biletnikoff Award-level talent, but he was likely a 1,000-yard receiver next season and the leader of a talented group that included Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown.

TCU still has the talent to win a Big 12 title, but there's no doubt that without Boyce and Maponga, the road got a good bit harder. Devonte Fields and Pachall are the team's two most promising players, but a shutdown corner like Jason Verrett electing to return will be huge in helping TCU slow down the offensive juggernauts you'll find in the Big 12. That's the other big thing the last two Big 12 champions had in common: Watch K-State eviscerate good offenses like West Virginia, Texas Tech and slow down Oklahoma State. The Pokes a year earlier forced tons of turnovers, but also held Baylor's offense in check, shut down Texas A&M in the second half, shut out Texas Tech's offense and raced to a 40-point lead on Oklahoma before the Sooners scored their first touchdown.

TCU's got that kind of potential on defense, but the pass rush takes a hit without Maponga. The receivers lose Boyce and Skye Dawson, forcing LaDarius Brown to be a bigger piece of the offense. He'll be up for the task, but having Boyce would make life a lot easier on Trevone Boykin or Pachall.

Can TCU weather those losses and win its first Big 12 title in its second year in the league? Sure.

The odds, though, got longer when Boyce and Maponga took their talents to the NFL.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

Biggest winners: David Ash and Texas' offense. Mike Davis committed to returning for his senior season. Then he didn't. Then he did again. For that brief period when he was headed to the NFL draft but hadn't signed with an agent -- it was less than a day -- it felt pretty close to panic time for Texas' offense. Ash is still trying to mature, and if his biggest deep threat took his talents to the NFL, the Longhorns would have had exactly one receiver with more than 10 catches in 2012. That's not conducive to Ash progressing as a passer. Texas still needs a bit more depth at the position, but Davis' decision to stick around is a huge boon for its offense, which very well may pay off in the Big 12 title race next year. Winning in this league typically requires teams to hang 30-40 points a game.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesWill Oklahoma's passing game suffer in 2013 without receiver Kenny Stills in the lineup?
Biggest losers: Oklahoma. The Sooners got gutted by the draft. Kenny Stills and Tony Jefferson might have been able to improve their stock with another year, but two-thirds of the Cali Trio is officially checking out of school early. New quarterback, likely Blake Bell, will have to adjust to a young group of receivers without Stills, the most consistent member of the group. Additionally, the defense has more pieces to fill. Tom Wort wasn't outstanding, but he at least had experience. He's headed to the NFL draft, too, and the Sooners lost a starting linebacker.

Headscratchers: Stansly Maponga, Tom Wort, Brandon Moore. Maponga is best suited to hear his name called pretty early in the draft, but the Frogs' best preseason standout was banged up this season and definitely could have improved his stock with a strong season in a major conference as a senior in 2013. He was overshadowed by teammate Devonte Fields, a fellow defensive lineman, and managed just 6.5 tackles for loss, the fourth-most for the Frogs. He had just four sacks after making nine a season ago. Wort, meanwhile, made the perplexing decision amidst rumors that he was unhappy with Oklahoma's new defensive scheme, which was a reason for a major production drop from him. Linebackers aren't meant to rack up tackles or make plays, but instead funnel ball carriers and plug up gaps. He runs the risk of being undrafted, and so does Moore, a Texas defensive tackle who transferred to Austin and started about half of Texas' games. Moore was basically just a member of a strong rotation up front for the Longhorns' defense, which struggled to stop the run for most of the season.

The replacements:

  • Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Shepard definitely brings about comparisons to Ryan Broyles. He has similar size and proved to be a solid option in the passing game as a true freshman. It's doubtful he'll be able to stretch the field like Stills, but his 45 grabs for 621 yards are sure to grow next season. He'll help smooth over the quarterback transition away from Landry Jones. Shepard and Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders will be the team's top two returning receivers.
  • Jeremy Smith/Desmond Roland, RBs, Oklahoma State: Joseph Randle is gone, but Oklahoma State is definitely prepared to fill his shoes. Neither Smith nor Roland has as much raw talent as Randle, but both are certainly capable to be very productive in Oklahoma State's pass-first offense. Smith's touches were down this year, but he ran for 646 yards in 2011. He and Roland are both more physical than Randle, but can they prove to be big-play backs? Smith's game tape against Texas in 2011 suggests the answer is yes.
  • LaDarius Brown, WR, TCU: Brown is a huge target for whoever TCU lines up at quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder caught 27 passes for 385 yards. Brandon Carter is the more immediate option as the team's best target without Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, but Brown's potential is sky-high. Look for him to get tons of targets in the red zone next season.
  • Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: Brown might be one big reason why Moore is leaving for the NFL. Brown fought his way into the rotation as a true freshman, which is no easy task even for the nation's best recruits. Brown was the nation's No. 12 player in the 2012 class, and everybody wanted him. He made 19 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Colleague Mel Kiper Jr. weighed in with a "good call/bad call" column Insider this week, but the only Big 12 player mentioned was Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson, and Kiper Jr. liked Jefferson's decision to enter the draft. Here are the Big 12 players who are going and staying in 2013.

Heading to the draft

Jefferson, S, Oklahoma: Probably the Big 12's best early entry prospect, he made 119 tackles this season. Expect the California native to go in the first two rounds.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle has led the Big 12 in rushing in each of the past two seasons, and felt the need to cash in now after producing a 1,400-yard season despite turnover at quarterback.

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: He led the nation with 25 touchdown catches. He is getting out of Morgantown as the Mountaineers shift to a new quarterback after Geno Smith graduated.

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma: He is disappointed with his 2012 season and leaves Oklahoma without a 1,000-yard season, but he improved in all three seasons in Norman.

Josh Boyce, WR, TCU: Boyce didn't produce a 1,000-yard season in his career, and it was a mild surprise that he left early. TCU's receiving corps will still be OK with Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown.

Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU: Maponga's decision came late and out of nowhere. Most didn't think he was even pondering an early entry after a disappointing 2012.

Brandon Moore, DT, Texas: Moore started less than half the season, but the juco transfer made it a one-and-done stop in Austin. He never quite reached the hype from the spring, but he was a good contributor.

Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma: Plenty of rumbling that he was unhappy with the defensive schemes and wanted to leave Oklahoma because the gap responsibility didn't showcase his skills. He had about 20 fewer tackles this season than in 2011.

Staying in college:

James Sims, RB, Kansas: Sims was one of the Big 12's best backs and led KU in rushing each of the past two seasons. KU has given him a ton of carries, but he's signing up for another year of it, and an attempt to win a Big 12 game.

Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: Colvin will be the Sooners' best player next season, and the lone returner in the secondary with an interception.

Mike Davis, WR, Texas: Davis flip-flopped a couple times, but ended up staying at Texas. The Longhorns' offense needed him, and surely David Ash and Major Applewhite were big fans of this decision.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett might just be the nation's best cornerback next season, and he'll be a huge piece of TCU's defense in 2013, which could be one of the nation's best next season, too.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: Gilbert's 2012 was a disappointment, but he's still a physical freak. He'll have another year likely returning kicks, and it's hard to see 2013 going worse than this season.